Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth Macneal

Publisher: Atria Books, Emily Bestler Books

Date of publication: February 1st 2022

Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Romance, Magical Realism

Purchase Links: Amazon | Audible | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

1866. In a coastal village in southern England, Nell picks violets for a living. Set apart by her community because of the birthmarks that speckle her skin, Nell’s world is her beloved brother and devotion to the sea.

But when Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders arrives in the village, Nell is kidnapped. Her father has sold her, promising Jasper Jupiter his very own leopard girl. It is the greatest betrayal of Nell’s life, but as her fame grows, and she finds friendship with the other performers and Jasper’s gentle brother Toby, she begins to wonder if joining the show is the best thing that has ever happened to her.

In London, newspapers describe Nell as the eighth wonder of the world. Figurines are cast in her image, and crowds rush to watch her soar through the air. But who gets to tell Nell’s story? What happens when her fame threatens to eclipse that of the showman who bought her? And as she falls in love with Toby, can he detach himself from his past and the terrible secret that binds him to his brother?

Moving from the pleasure gardens of Victorian London to the battle-scarred plains of the Crimea, Circus of Wonders is an astonishing story about power and ownership, fame and the threat of invisibility.


First Line:

It begins with an advertisement, nailed to an oak tree.

Circus of wonders by elizabeth macneal

It is not every day that a book about English circuses in the late 1860s comes across my email. When I read the blurb for Circus of Wonders, it immediately caught my attention. I am glad that I read this book, even if it made me uncomfortable in places.

Circus of Wonders had an exciting storyline. Nell is a nineteen-year-old girl living in a village on the coast of England. Nell is an outcast because she is covered in brown birthmarks, including a big one that covers the side of her face. Because of that, she keeps to her cottage. Her everyday life is mundane, packing flowers dipped in sugar and shipping them to London. But then the circus comes to town, and Nell’s life is turned upside down. Sold by her father to Jasper Jupiters Circus of Wonders, Nell finds love and fame. But, Jasper (the circus owner) is jealous that her fame goes beyond his and vows to take her down. Will Nell be able to hold onto her values and her love? Or will she be left in worse straits than when she joined the circus?

Circus of Wonders had a medium-paced storyline that did pick up steam in places. The pacing of the book did it justice. It was a nice, steady pace from beginning to end. It took me around two days to finish Circus of Wonders.

Nell was powerful in this book. She went from this meek, timid girl afraid to show her face to a powerful woman who wasn’t scared to fight for what she wanted. Her character’s growth throughout the book was terrific.

I wasn’t that big of a fan of Toby. I didn’t see what Nell saw in him except that he was safe because he was so big? He was also abnormally close to Jasper, his brother. It creeped me out how close they were. I did like that his character did show some growth during the book. By the end, he was becoming his own person. I wish he had made the right choice (if you read the book, you know what I mean). He would have been so much happier.

I was not too fond of Jasper. He was overconfident, took too many risks, and was cruel. You don’t see how evil he was until his chapters when he was in the Crimean War. After those chapters, his cruelness was more apparent. Also, I wouldn’t say I liked how he treated Toby. From the beginning, he used Toby’s secret to keep him around and constantly reminded him about it. He disgusted me with how he treated his “attractions” (the animals and humans).

I did like the look into how circus life was in the 1860s. I liked the peek behind the big top that the author gave me. I wasn’t surprised at what she described when talking about the human attractions. They were treated as subhuman, like monsters (as Queen Victoria and her Ladies in Waiting described Nell). I like that they showed how everyone became a family unit and protected their own. Even when Brunette ran, they didn’t tell Jasper until he discovered she was gone.

The romance between Nell and Toby seemed a little forced to me. It didn’t do anything for me. I also wasn’t surprised by how it ended. I called it when they first met (not even when they had sex when they first met). Toby was too damaged, and Nell, well, she was a force to be reckoned with.

The end of Circus of Wonders was “blah” to me. I wish that the storyline with Jasper went the way I thought it would. I also wish that Toby had made a different choice when it came to Nell. I liked that the author went 11 years into the future to show where everyone ended up. It was interesting how the tables had flipped. And I loved that dreams were realized!!

I would recommend Circus of Wonders to anyone over 16. There is mild violence, nongraphic sex scenes, and no language.

2 thoughts on “Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth Macneal”

  1. I have this one to read. The blurb drew me in. I am sad to know the ending is a bit meh, but I am still looking forward to reading this one.

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